A collection of fierce polemics on the sorry state of American society from social critic, essayist and journalist Ehrenreich (Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, 2007, etc.).
The author sees the United States as increasingly polarized into the self-indulgent superrich and the downtrodden poor, with a shrinking middle class in between. As in Nickel and Dimed (2001), she writes vividly about the plight of those struggling to make ends meet with minimum-wage jobs, and her wrath is directed at those she sees as their oppressors: the financial industry, the private health-insurance industry, medical professionals, airlines, oil companies and big-box stores—especially Wal-Mart, though Target is a target too. Ehrenreich harbors a special scorn for the lifestyle of mega-wealthy hedge-fund managers, but others who wear the black hat are President Bush, CEOs and college administrators. She lays herself open to charges of oversimplification on economic issues, but her journalistic instincts generally serve her well. Her witty, quite brief chapters, some only two or three pages long, are organized into themed sections with such charged titles as “Meanness on the Rise” and “Hell Day at Work.” While some of the pieces in this collection were originally written for the New York Times, The Progressive and other publications, most previously appeared in slightly different form as blogs on the author’s website. Blogs, however, are time-sensitive and intended to be stand-alones. Read in succession as chapters of a book, they seem scattershot, and some pieces are dated—for example, Ehrenreich’s comments about President Bush’s health savings account idea and her spiteful piece on the high-earning devotees of low-fat diets.
Provocative, angry and funny, often at the same time—just don’t try to read it all in one sitting.